I was at a meeting the other day with a bunch of other professors in my sort of work, and they were all very convicted about the value of what they are doing. I wish I shared this conviction; I don't know why this work depresses me so much. I feel like if I described to a lay person the sort of work I do, and why, they might say, "Hey, that's really important." I feel like if I agreed, it would make the frustrations much more tolerable. I don't know why it is that for example, in a proposal, I can describe all the reasons it's important, but that on an everyday level I allow my insecurity to tempt me into thinking that I invent these justifications, that they're part of the big picture of my failures or lack of great success. I allow the insecurity to taint my passion for the work, and that makes my insecurity worse.
On a flight on the way back from the meeting, I was seated next to a pediatrician. We talked about a lot of work-related things, even though I don't know anything about pediatrics. It was funny where the similarities are. For example, he talked for a while about all the paperwork, that for every 15 minutes he spends with a patient, he has to fill out 3 or 4 or 5 pages of paperwork, and that this takes up a lot of his time. He talked about how the measures of success seem arbitrary, for example, that if you take two diabetic children, one from a well-off household and a healthy background, and the other from a poor household with a lot of health problems, you can't compare their quality measures, like how many times your diabetic patient goes to the eye doctor or how many follow up calls you have. Maybe the poor diabetic child doesn't have a reliable phone number and moves around a lot, and probably rarely ever goes to the eye doctor - but this doesn't mean that your care of that child has been a failure. More important than how far you are is how far you've come.
I asked him how easy it was for him to become disenchanted by the whole thing: the paperwork, the irritating metrics, etc. He said, "Oh, I guess it happens sometimes. But usually I just figure it's the price of doing the job, and kids need doctors."
I was thinking, "But hey, pediatrics, that's really important."
3 months ago